Longtime holiday adventure ends its 39 years on Bainbridge

It wouldn’t be the holidays without the Christmas House. And, like every one of the previous 38 years, the doors to the Christmas House are open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now until Christmas Eve.

But it will be the last year for the Christmas House on Bainbridge Island.

Owners Bob and Carolee Pedersen have plans to move their holiday vintage store to the other side of the bridge.

“We really thought about moving back about 10 years ago,” said Carolee. “But then the housing market slumped. Just this past year, as the housing market got better, we were thinking about moving when a woman came to us and asked us if we would sell.”

Carolee said the woman asked what they wanted for their 1908 Port Madison cottage and after some thought they came up with a price.

“She said, ‘Fine,’” Carolee said. “And we couldn’t walk away from that.”

Although she thinks she knows where they will move, nothing’s firm yet. They are looking at the other side of the Agate Pass Bridge in the Lemolo area where their daughter lives.

“One thing for sure,” she said. “The Christmas House won’t go away. We have too much stuff for that to happen.”

The couple, who has lived in the house since 1978, never intended to open a business from their front room. As Carolee tells, she was a young mother and met other young mothers when their children were playing together at a nearby park. Three of them — Carolee, Marilyn and Merry — began to plan a holiday gift shop to sell all the things they made during the year.

“The three of us rented a small cabin and we did it for two years,” she said. “Then the third year we had to move to another location. After that, the other two women got interested in other things and I was spending a lot of time going from home to the shop. I just decided, ‘Why not do this at home?’”

That’s when the family with four children’s residence came to be “The Christmas House.”

In the first year, they put away some personal things in the living room for a small store space during the season. When Carolee needed more space, the store expanded to the front bedroom. Things eventually grew to fill the entire living room, and Bob took out a closet wall so there would be more store space in the bedroom.

Today, every part of the first floor of the house, except their own bedroom, is filled from floor to ceiling with Santas, trees, cards, ornaments and more.

“We live here and some people think we’re eccentric,” Carolee said. “I prefer to think we are a square peg in a round hole.”

Items in the store are both handmade, vintage and faux vintage “which are new things made to look like the old things,” she explained.

She and her husband make two cross-country trips each year collecting items for the store.

“We pull out the trailer and we go for three to six weeks, looking for anything that we think will fit in,” she said, noting that she also has a spring and summer sale for garden decor and other yard art and hosts other vendors. “It is a true shopping expedition. If we come back and the trailer isn’t full, we haven’t done our job.”

The handmade items they are know for include Bob’s Santas, which he carves from wood and paints. In years past, he’s made some that are 2 or 3 feet tall.

“We use to have an auction every year for Bob’s Santa,” said Carolee, “but so many people wanted them that we decided to make the smaller ones (4 to 8 inches tall) so that more people could have one.”

Carolee is known for her handmade ornaments. She paints Santa on clam shells and on driftwood. She also hand sews some felt ornaments and pins. And she makes snowmen from plastic bottle tops and pieces which she finds on the beaches in Mexico.

“They are my funky snowmen,” she said. “I’ve done them for at least 15 years.”

In the early years, when she was teaching and raising a family and creating items for the store, the other teachers at the school asked her if she’d let them preview the store before it opened to the public.

“More people wanted to come, so I institutionalized it,” she said.

Now, on the weekend before Thanksgiving she hosts a preview which costs $5 to enter. All the funds raised are given to Helpline and Fishline, two area food banks.

“This year we gave them $800,” Carolee said. “And throughout the season I have a jar where customers can donate for the food banks.”

Now retired, Carolee can spend from 10 to 12 hours a day creating.

“I call it ‘being chained to the sewing machine,’” she said. “When you have everything out, it’s just easier to stay at it for a long time. I tell myself, ‘Get it out and get it done.’”

When it comes time to close for the holiday season, at 4 p.m. Christmas Eve, the ornaments on the living room tree get packed away. Stuff comes down so the family can sit on the couch and chairs, and the television gets uncovered. Then Carolee puts out her own treasured family ornaments on the tree.

“Other than that, this is home,” she said.

She recalled Christmases as a child, at her grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. She and her siblings and cousins would be told to hide in the bedroom because Santa was coming.

“My uncle would dress up as Santa and put the presents on the front porch,” Carolee said. “Sometimes we’d open the bedroom door and sneak a peek at him. And then we’d come out and get our presents and open them.”

Now, with four grown children, and eight grandchildren, the holiday is usually spent as a quiet one at home, just she and Bob. Her children and grandchildren often go to their in-laws for Christmas, she explained.

But she does spend special time with her youngest grandson, Kirby, 2, throughout the season.

“When he comes over, he knows to keep his hands behind his back,” she said. “Except the tree with felt ornaments. He can touch those.”

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